KFC - Who started that franchise?

KFC, Kentucky Fried Chicken, is easily one of the world’s most widely recognised brands, and the founder, Harland Sanders is one of the pioneers of modern franchising. 

But how much do you know about him?

Chicken on a table in front of a service station

Sanders adopted the name “Kentucky Fried Chicken" because it distinguished his product from the "Southern fried chicken" product found in restaurants. It earned him the honorary title of ‘Colonel’ by the Governor of Kentucky.

His original restaurant was a kitchen table placed in front of his service station, but he eventually opened a restaurant across the street, where he perfected his secret recipe and pressure fryer cooking method.

Sanders identified the potential of the restaurant franchising concept, and, in his mid-60’s traveled the US determined to market his chicken concept to restaurants by cooking it for them door-to-door. 

Legend has it that Colonel Sanders heard 1009 "no"s before he heard his first "yes"!

In his plan, independent restaurant owners would pay four cents on each chicken sold as a franchise fee, in exchange for Sanders' "secret blend of herbs and spices", and method, as well as the right to advertise using his name and likeness.

Colonel Sanders First Restaurant Kfc Kentucky Fried Chicken On Franchise Buyer

Franchising the concept

In 1952, Sanders successfully franchised his chicken recipe to Pete Harman, the operator of one of the largest restaurants in Salt Lake City. Harman trademarked the phrase "It's finger lickin' good", which was eventually adopted as a slogan across the entire chain.

In 1957 Harman bundled 14 pieces of chicken, five bread rolls and a pint of gravy into a cardboard bucket, and offered it to families as "a complete meal". 

He first test-trialed the packaging as a favour to Sanders, who had called on behalf of a Denver franchisee who didn't know what to do with 500 cardboard buckets he had bought from a traveling salesman. 

One of Sanders early franchisees included Dave Thomas, who developed the rotating bucket sign, and eventually founded the Wendy's restaurant chain.

Sanders sells

In 1964, at the age of 73, with more than 600 franchised outlets, the company's rapid expansion made it too large for Sanders to manage, so he sold his interest in the company with exception of the Canadian operation, to a group of investors for $2million. - around $16million in 2020 terms. 

The contract included a lifetime salary for Sanders and the agreement that he would be the company's quality controller and trademark. Yet, despite selling the company, Sanders retained significant moral authority over executives and franchisees and firmly remained the face of the company reportedly traveling 320,000km+ a year making appearances and tv commercials.

And as late as 1979, aged 89, he was still making surprise visits to KFC restaurants. 

At the time of his death, aged 90 in 1980, his legacy was firmly set, with an estimated 6,000 KFC outlets globally in 48 countries.